Friday, July 29, 2005


Lawrence "If Kuwait grew carrots, we wouldn't give a damn" Korb, an excellent commentator on military affairs, lays a smackdown to advocates of space-based weapons. Essentially, the oldest and simplest argument against space-based weapons is still the best. In essence, for every dollar the US spends on space-based weaponry, it's adversaries will spend pennies on countermeasures - and the adversaries will win out. This is especially true for things like space-based Ballistic Missile Defense, but even for the less fantastical ideas. Any weapon placed in orbit is immediately seen, and is incredibly vulnerable. As many people have pointed out, once you've put a multi-billion dollar satellite in orbit, it can be destroyed by a million dollar rocket with a $10 bucket of nails.

This is why, back in the day, the US agreed with the USSR to cease work on anti-satellite weaponry - it was destabilizing to the entire surveillance satellite network of both countries. The only recourse was for each country to threaten nuclear war if their satellite were blown up, which wasn't somewhere even Reagan wanted to go. Bizarrely, space-based weapons that were originally hoped to escape Mutual Assured Destruction ended up only strengthening it.

Go read the Korb piece. He's generally worth reading.

Good News For Everyone

Cornell University is reporting that organic farming is more than competitive with conventional methods. (Link goes to the Treehugger article. The report itself isn't available online, but Cornell's press release is here.)

First off, this is excellent news for everyone on the planet who eats, breathes, or drinks water. Sadly, the way we get our food is one of the largest sources of water and air pollution. The idea that it should be possible to grow our food without resorting to fertilizers and pesticides (which are ineffective in the long-term anyway) is excellent, period.

One of the most interesting things that I saw was this:
The fact that organic agriculture systems also absorb and retain significant amounts of carbon in the soil has implications for global warming, Pimentel said, pointing out that soil carbon in the organic systems increased by 15 to 28 percent, the equivalent of taking about 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide per hectare out of the air.

Among the study's other findings:
  • In the drought years, 1988 to 1998, corn yields in the [organic] legume-based system were 22 percent higher than yields in the conventional system.
  • The soil nitrogen levels in the organic farming systems increased 8 to 15 percent. Nitrate leaching was about equivalent in the organic and conventional farming systems.
  • Organic farming reduced local and regional groundwater pollution by not applying agricultural chemicals.
So it gets better and better - not only does organic food sequester more CO2 than conventional agriculture, but organic agriculture actually resists droughts better than conventional methods. This means that not only can organic farming help combat climate change, but it's also likely to survive whatever climate change does happen.

Now, if we can bring the costs down (shifting subsidies, anyone?) maybe we can finally get our food industry off of what Vandana Shiva has called the chemical "treadmill" - the process by which we kill the land with fertilizers (requiring more fertilizers) and produce pesticide-resistant insects, requiring more pesticide. It's better for farmers (lower input costs), better for the environment, and incidentally better for humans.

You've Made It, Bucky!

Buckminster Fuller, the patron saint of this blog, has been Farked.

To see where the Fark link leads, click here.

Hooray for Big Guvmint

Rick Perlstein has written a piece advocating that Democrats of all stripes come out for universal health care, noting that - duh - it had the advantage of already being supported (in theory) by the American public.
It is the duty of every generation of Democrats to produce new geese to lay 70 years of golden eggs. It is the only way our party has grown—as Bill Kristol puts it, by reviving the reputation of the Democrats as the generous protector of middle-class interests. They know they're screwed if we're credible in our pledge to deliver new kinds of power to ordinary people in their every day lives.

Democratic congressmen can do that, for example, by making a credible collective pledge that if you vote Democrat enough you will never pay another medical bill as long as you live. You really think people wouldn't stop voting Republican then?...

Remember when Dick Morris used to tell President Clinton that he couldn't afford not to be on the side of any issue supported by 60 percent of Americans? Paul Krugman reported a poll that 72 percent of Americans favor "government-guaranteed health insurance for all."
Ah, serendipity. I just finished reading Linda McQuaig's book The Wealthy Banker's Wife, written in the early 1990s and still depressingly relevant. Interestingly, she makes the same point as Perlstein: Progressives need to fight for broad, universal social programs. There are a number of good reasons for this. First is the moral one - government should help everyone. Second is the political one - universal programs (like Social Security in the US, or Medicare in Canada) are far more difficult to kill than targeted ones, like welfare. Third, and finally, is the financial one - universal programs, being easier to maintain, actually do more good for less money than targeted plans.

Perlstein talks about health care, and I'm hugely in favour of the US adopting a universal system, if only to save Canada's health care system from increasing American predation. But it's worth noting that the universalist method is, well, universal. If the government can afford it (and we can, easily) why not provide free post-secondary education to everyone? As our economy becomes increasingly knowledge-based and professional, we can't afford to restrict access to necessary education. Seeing as the government in Canada already spends a lot of money to guarantee for-profit student loans, it would even makes a certain amount of sense financially - though as I noted above, that's the least of our concerns.

Of course, the mother of all universal programs is the idea of a guaranteed annual income - effectively, the government would either top-up your paycheck or send the money to you. Years ago the National Post reported that the Liberals were considering this as a new program to solidify Liberal rule for a generation - but then I never saw another story on it again. Whether it has a chance in hell is debatable, but the social and economic benefits of higher consumption and less poverty are hard to argue. Bizarrely, it's not just socialists who'd like to see a guaranteed income scheme - Milton Friedman has also advocated a similar scheme. Being in agreement with Friedman leaves me with the feeling that my eyes should be bleeding.

So I say bring on the heavy hand of government! I was never wedded to my work ethic in the first place.

Godspeed Discovery

Okay, so I'm still catching up. But I'm pleased to see that it now looks like Discovery will actually make it home safely (knock on wood.)

When Columbia was lost, there was a spate of articles essentially arguing that space exploration was either a) unnecessary, or b) better done by robots anyway. I reject argument A, and am lukewarm to argument B. Jim Lewis guestblogging at DefenseTech gives a recent example of the "unmanned is best" mindset. For specific tasks, robots can easily outperform humans, period. However, for general science or large-scale exploration, crewed missions are vital.

This isn't to say that the Shuttle should be maintained. The shuttle has never been a useful space vehicle, and never could have met the lofty promises that NASA made in the early years. (One flight a month??) There are two reasons for this, and both have to do with the basic design of the Shuttle.

The first problem is that the Shuttle is designed to carry both cargo and humans. This makes no sense whatsoever, as the cost of man-rating a vehicle is an order of magnitude higher than a cargo-carrying rocket. NASA orginally justified this choice based on the possibility of recovering satellites, that they might be brought back to Earth for repair and refurbishment. There are two problems with this scenario, however. First, satellites are usually obsolete long before they become damaged beyond repair, making it more sensible to simply de-orbit them rather than repairing them. Secondly, even if you theoretically did want to bring the satellite home, it would make far more sense to design an unmanned cargo shuttle. You could still use most of the same parts, but design two different models of Shuttle.

Of course, it probably still doesn't make sense to build a reusable cargo shuttle - disposable rockets are usually cheaper and more reliable. But this was how it was sold to Congress back in ye olde Nixon administration.

Flowing from this choice (to use the same vehicle for two jobs) comes the second problem - the design of the Shuttle launch stack. Because of the size of the combined passenger/freight Shuttle, the orbiter needs to be seated on the side of the volatile launch stack. A smaller passenger-only orbiter could instead be placed on top of a single rocket and launched without fear of falling debris, unlike the current Shuttle. As we've seen with Discovery, even years of attention aren't enough to eliminate the problem of falling debris. The far simpler solution is to place the orbiter out of the way of harm. Some have even argued that a top-launched orbiter might have survived a Challenger-style explosion during launch. In any case, splitting up the tasks of a reusable spacecraft really is the only way to do it - something NASA now seems to be admitting, 30 years too late.

This isn't to say that the Shuttle could not have been put to a more profitable use - I've become a rather passionate foe of the International Space Station, simply because it will be unlikely to serve any serious scientific or exploratory purpose. If you'd like to see a company that has better ideas for what to do with the Shuttle, check out these guys. They've got an excellent rebuttal to Bush's proposed Mars/Moon plan here. Critically, they are a private, for-profit group looking to do more than just science in space - they're looking to sell products and services back to the Earth, including Solar Power Satellites.

In any case, I hope the Shuttle program is put out of it's misery soon - frankly, the ISS is now so much less than it's original proposals that the difference between completing it or abandoning it is really negligible, except for the billions of dollars that have already been spent.

If Grassland Survives, The Terrorists Win

Via Battlepanda, I find myself doing something I'd so far avoided - reading a John Tierney column. God, he's really an awful wingnut pundit. But the substance of his column is interesting - environmentalists have agreed to buy grazing permits from ranchers to protect a national park. Excellent example of environmentalists working with the community - the greens win, the ranchers win, so everybody's happy, right?

No, not right. For reasons that are beyond my feeble understanding, Republicans have pressured the Interior department to stop the sale. Angelica asks if this is simple spite motivating the GOP, and I'm leaning towards yes - for the GOP, anything - absolutely anything - which smacks of "environmentalism" has to be fought tooth and nail, no matter how appealing it otherwise would be.

'Nuff Said

I haven't yet written about the whole GTA: San Andreas controversy, largely because I can't really work up the energy to care. So I'm thankful that, as with so many things, Scott Kurtz manages to summarize the issue perfectly.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Punditry and Anti-Punditry

Ah, the New York Times. The only material in the entire universe that can withstand the massive release of energy caused when punditry and anti-punditry collide. It's like the dilithium crystal of newsprint. Today's example is Bob Herbert's column:
You can run through all the wildly varying rationales for this [Iraq] war: the weapons of mass destruction (that were never found), the need to remove the unmitigated evil of Saddam (whom we had once cozied up to), the connection to Al Qaeda (which was bogus), and one of President Bush's favorites, the need to fight the terrorists "over there" so we won't have to fight them here at home.

All the rationales have to genuflect before "The Prize," which was the title of Mr. Yergin's Pulitzer-Prize-winning book.

It's the oil, stupid.
Holy hell!! To see such virulent anti-Americanism on the pages of the Paper of Record, no less! Meanwhile, of course, Tom Friedman has (since the beginning of this sorry catastrophe) maintained that the war had nothing to do with oil. Both share the same space (the NYT op-ed page) and yet, miraculously, the streets of New York are not a smoking crater from what should be a case of mutual annihilation. I'm sure that particle physicists from all over the world will be streaming in to New York to investigate this phenomenon.

More importantly, it's really nice to see the mainstream media acknowledge what the sentient have known for three years - any way with Iraq was going to be at least partly about oil.

Plame Update

Ah, the stories begin to unravel. "Chatter" (as the Pentagon would put it) now seems to indicate that, as I suspected, Miller is claiming the protection of the first ammendment so that she doesn't have to use the fifth. To put that in, you know, english, I turn to Arianna Huffington:
It's July 6, 2003, and Joe Wilson's now famous op-ed piece appears in the Times, raising the idea that the Bush administration has "manipulate[d]" and "twisted" intelligence "to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." Miller, who has been pushing this manipulated, twisted, and exaggerated intel in the Times for months, goes ballistic. Someone is using the pages of her own paper to call into question the justification for the war -- and, indirectly, much of her reporting. The idea that intelligence was being fixed goes to the heart of Miller's credibility. So she calls her friends in the intelligence community and asks, Who is this guy? She finds out he's married to a CIA agent. She then passes on the info about Mrs. Wilson to Scooter Libby (Newsday has identified a meeting Miller had on July 8 in Washington with an "unnamed government official"). Maybe Miller tells Rove too -- or Libby does. The White House hatchet men turn around and tell Novak and Cooper. The story gets out.
So here we have it. If true (and this is really just Arianna's word at this point) Miller isn't protecting a source - she's protecting herself against a charge that could have her imprisoned for a long, long time. Of course, the First ammendment is so much sexier than the fifth (which has unfortunate associations with both Communists and Ken Lay). I'm personally inclined to believe it, but you'll all have to make up your own minds.


Al Gore just got Atrios' endorsement for 2008 - shortly after Matthew Yglesias'. Gee, if this keeps up, Al Gore could have the all-important (sarcasm alert!) blogistan endorsement by dinnertime!

One note, though: If Al Gore, circa 2000 shows up, I'm voting Green. If Al Gore, circa 2002-present shows up to kick some ass and take names, then I'm moving to Iowa for 2007.

Of course, I'd really, really, really hope that this is the only way in which Al Gore imitates the career of Richard Nixon.

Speaking of Lies

Ah, the Pentagon. Is there a place in this universe more amoral and immoral, more corrupt and careless, more of a cesspool? Outside of the event horizon of a black hole, I honestly can't think of a single place in the universe where bright light more fears to tread.

First, we get the logical corollary to the press lying for the military - the military lying to the press. Billmon has more. What's really funny his how bad the lie is - I mean, if you're going to fabricate quotes, don't use the same one twice! I've known first-year undergrads who plagiarize better than this. And not at the cost of $1 billion a week, neither.

Second, the Pentagon continues to refuse to release records of the abuse at Abu Ghraib, which allegedly contains video of young Iraqis being raped by US soldiers. Good work!

Finally, Bush has threatened to veto any law - including the current military spending bill in Congress - that limits his power to torture people without due process.

Sweet Jesus it must be hard to wake up a Republican. I'm tempted to scream "How did it come to this?" but I'm afraid of the answer.

NPR is Excellent, While Movies Suck

I know conservatives must hate it, but during my brief sojourn in to the land of the Spangled Stars, I did get to enjoy NPR. Which, for all it's faults, contains some excellent programming. For instance, an interview NPR did with Edward Jay Epstein was fascinating, and it led to his Slate pieces - which I could of course only read once I got home. Thankfully my memory didn't fail me, and I was able to find his latest Slate piece:
In 1948, with studios earning all their revenues from the box office, that audience was moviegoers. Even as late as 1980, when the audience had television sets and video players, studios still earned 55 percent of their money from people who actually went to movie theaters. In 2005, however, those moviegoers provided the studios with less than 15 percent of their worldwide revenues, while couch potatoes provided it with 85.8 percent.
I had naturally assumed that the rapid adoption of DVDs had changed the movie business, but I hadn't dreamed that things had swung that far. Obviously this has been a long-term trend - beginning with the introduction of TV in the 1950s - but to think that studios now lose money on their box-office releases is astonishing. Congratulations, technology: You've made the traditional movie theatre essentially a marketing device for the DVD market.

You should really read Epstein's entire piece - and his others on Slate too. But let's take a moment to realize what bullshit the movie studio's anti-piracy campaign has been. After much wailing an gnashing of teeth over the declining box-office take, and worries about a slowdown in DVD sales, Epstein lays this on us:
Instead of a box-office decline, the studios actually took in more from the U.S. box office in the first quarter of 2005 ($870.2 million) than they did in the similar period of 2004 ($797.1 million). So even though the total audience at movie theaters declined during this period, this came mainly at the expense of independent, foreign, and documentary movies. For the Hollywood studios (and their subsidaries), in fact, there was no slump at all....

The numbers tell the story. In the first three months of 2005, the studios earned $5.67 billion dollars from DVD sales, compared to $4.375 billion in the same period in 2004. DVD sales were up $1.29 billion, an incredible rise of 28 percent, which exceeded last year's increase. So there was hardly a slowdown in DVD sales. Indeed, DVDs alone now provide 59 percent of the feature film revenues of the studios, as opposed to 48 percent in 2004.
Well first off, I'd like to say I'm an idiot for buying the hype about the alleged movie "slowdown". Once again - you listen to the studios, and you're being lied to.

Secondly, look at the second part of the DVD story - not only do they now make up 85% of a studio's revenues, but they even make up almost 60% of an individual new release's revenues. And that figure is up more than 10% in a single year. Hate to say it, but it looks like the movie chains are doomed - DOOMED, I SAY! Actually, I don't hate to say it too much - going to the theatre these days usually fills me with equal parts of dread and apprehension. Don't buy the fear-mongering, either. Actors will continue to get paid, films will continue to be made. But the increasingly irrelevant theatres will probably be shuttered. But as Wired tells us today, they won't go down without a fight.
Representatives of Hollywood's top movie studios say they have agreed on technical specifications that will make it easier to distribute and display movies digitally....

Studios spent more than $631 million in 2003 on film prints for the North American market alone, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Subtracting reels from that equation could reduce total distribution costs by as much as 90 percent, according to U.K. digital cinema analyst Patrick von Sychowski. Add in costs for overseas distribution and exhibition, and the move from prints to digital files could mean an eventual annual savings of up to $900 million.

Advocates of the shift to digital exhibition say theater owners also would benefit from new flexibility: If a movie sells out in one theater, an owner can quickly switch other screens to that feature to accommodate the unexpected demand. And if a supposed blockbuster turns out to be a bomb, it can be yanked from screens just as instantly -- no new prints from the studio, no reel swaps.
Fascinating, and it might even staunch the hemmoraging of the audience - for a time. But I doubt it. Frankly, the "experience" of going to a movie just isn't worth it anymore - I haven't left a movie theatre without feeling at least slightly ripped off since Fellowship of the Ring came out. I don't know about others, but even the best movies don't make up for a $40+ expense, especially when the DVD will be out for $25 in 6 months, and I own a microwave for popcorn.

So: The movies are dead! Long live the movies!

Worse and Worse

I was willing to give the British police a break on the whole "we shoot dusky people" thing. Really, after two bombings anybody can get twitchy. Then, while I was at the cottage, I heard the reports come out. Specifically, this one:
Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, was shot seven times in the head and once in the shoulder, at Stockwell Tube station, south London, on Friday.
Ah, the picture starts to emerge. As more and more details have come to light, it looks like a) he wasn't wearing the bulky jacket the police say he did, and b) there was no good reason for him to have been suspected in the first place - except for the aformentioned dusky skin. My first reaction to the reports of Menezes being shot in the head 7 times was simple - he was dropped with the first shot to the shoulder, and then executed by an overzealous cop. That doesn't seem to be quite what happened, but in any case it looks like the police have screwed up badly. Some trigger-happy cop was put in a tense situation, and an innocent man is dead.

So what now? My vote is we do what we always do in murder cases - prosecute the offender. Cops are part of the system too, and frankly, I don't care what stress he was under. He's a cop, and stress is in the job description. The law makes allowances for these kinds of things, but we still have to apply it equally.

The Engrish Strikes Back

Brilliant. Take one Crappy Movie, translate the dialogue to Chinese, then back in to English.

Just to whet your appetite, "Revenge of the Sith" becomes "Backstroke of the West".

Go read.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

And I'm Back

...catching up on things, watching taped Daily Show episodes and I was shocked to see Sen. Rick Santorum look almost human. I was actually listening really intently, because I guess I half-expected him to spit acid on Stewart's face, or something.

It was actually succeeding in making Santorum look less like hellspawn.


Until the junior Senator from Pennsylvania said that when America was dealing with "segregation and racism", that "was" a time for a strong federal government.

Racism. "Was".

Apparently, America has conquered the scourge of racism. This must have happened sometime between Sunday afternoon, when I went away, and Monday afternoon, when Jon Stewart was taped.

Or, it might just be that Sen. Santorum is an ass who's so detached from reality that he can work in Washington for ten years and never see evidence of racism in America's blackest city.

No wonder some people are less than happy with this ass.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Bush the Atheist?

Nick Kristof has a fascinating article today about North Korea. It's sensible, clear, and contains good advice - but only if you read it backwards.

Kristof's second half of the op-ed suggests a number of ways that the US could help change the North Korean regime, including negotiating directly with Pyongyang, letting NK in to the Asian Development Bank, etc. These are all excellent suggestions - and the US isn't doing a single one of them. The US, you might remember, is currently run by conservative Christians in the executive and legislative branches. Therefore, you can see how Kristof arrives at the obvious conclusion (interestingly, propounded in the first half of the article): it's all liberal's fault.
"The biggest scandal in progressive politics," Tony Blair told The New Yorker this year, "is that you do not have people with placards out in the street on North Korea. I mean, that is a disgusting regime. The people are kept in a form of slavery, 23 million of them, and no one protests!"

Actually, some people do protest. Conservative Christians have aggressively taken up the cause of North Korean human rights in the last few years, and the movement is gathering steam. A U.S.-government-financed conference on North Korean human rights convened in Washington last week, and President Bush is expected shortly to appoint Jay Lefkowitz to the new position of special envoy for North Korean human rights.
Ah, yes, Conservatives have had such amazing success in North Korea. Let's go through Kristof's list:
Our first step should be to talk directly to North Koreans, even invite senior officials to the United States. Many conservatives would accept direct talks, as long as the agenda included human rights (on the model of the Helsinki accords).
Bush has refused any direct negotiations with Pyongyang. Bush is the most powerful conservative Christian in the world. Yet somehow, these two facts mean that Progressives are wimps. Or something.
Second, we should welcome North Korea's economic integration with the rest of the world. For example, we should stop blocking Pyongyang's entry into the Asian Development Bank and encourage visits to North Korea by overweight American bankers. In a country where much of the population is hungry, our most effective propaganda is our paunchiness.
I'm certain the Bush administration is willing to help open North Korea to outside contact. After all, look at how rational America's policy on Cuba has been. Oh, wait.
Third, we should continue feeding starving North Koreans, while also pushing for increased monitoring. The food is delivered through the U.N. World Food Program in sacks that say, in Korean as well as English, that the food is from America. Nobody has done more to bring about change in North Korea than the World Food Program, which now has 45 foreigners traveling around the country.
Okay, so this is the list of priorities for Kristof's plan to save North Korea - 2 things the Bush administration either won't do, or will only do grudgingly, and one thing we're already doing - feeding the North with food aid. You might think this might be a problem for the people who, you know, actually run the country. But you and I aren't nearly as smart as Kristof. He knows who the real culprits are - liberals. Or who knows, maybe Bush has stopped being a Conservative Christian while I was out.

Hell, it wouldn't be the Sunday New York Times without a gratuitous snipe at the Left.

In other North Korean news, Pyongyang is proposing a permanent peace treaty to replace the armistice the South refused to sign in 1953.
North Korea has called for a peace treaty with the US, ahead of the resumption of talks aimed at ending the stand-off over its nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang said in a statement that a full treaty replacing the armistice signed at the end of the Korean War in 1953 was needed to resolve the crisis....

In a statement issued on Friday, North Korea's foreign ministry said: "Replacing the cease-fire mechanism by a peace mechanism on the Korean Peninsula would lead to putting an end to the US hostile policy" towards the North.

It added that a peace treaty would "automatically result in the denuclearisation of the peninsula".
Of course, the North is still going to demand an assurance that the US won't attack, which Washington won't give - Republicans or no, the US's foreign policy is to never, except in the most dire circumstances, make any concessions to limit its freedom of action. So the US is faced with an interesting choice - either continue it's present course and risk the incineration of North Asia, or actually step back a bit from it's imperial policies and secure some peace and security. I know what choice I'd have them make.

In other news, I'll be heading to my family's cottage for the next few days, so no blogging until Wednesday night or Thursday morning. Have a lovely time, y'all. I'll be back.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Do We Have A Right To Electricity?

As I've mentioned before, we in Ontario are in the midst of an electricity shortage. The financial costs alone of this situation are pretty huge - for every kilowatt-hour Ontario has to import, the government is paying 53 cents - or roughly ten times the domestic rate. Meanwhile, office buildings continue to be air conditioned to 20 degrees celsius, because god forbid we ask men to wear shorts and t-shirts.

The reckoning will come, of course, in one form or another - either taxes will go up, spending will go down, or electricity rates will rise. Either way, the public as a whole will suffer for this nearly perfect example of a tragedy of the commons. In the worst case, we'll face blackouts.

So rationing is going to be a reality one way or another. We don't have the means to ration electricity in real-time yet, but we really need to face the reality that, barring an explosion in new supply, the government is going to need to constrict demand somehow. Now watch for the screaming to begin...

Oh, that's right...

It's called Democracy. Lindsay Beyerstein, guest-blogging at the Washington Monthly, has a great line about Bush's Supreme Court nominee - who, by the way, thinks 10-year olds should be jailed for the heinous crime of french-fry eating. Anyway, Lindsay:
The Republicans are trying to convince the public that the president has the right to have his nominees confirmed. That's absolutely ridiculous. Regardless of what you think about the judicial filibuster, the fact remains that every senator is responsible for evaluating and critiquing the nominees (adivsing) and approving only those she deems worthy (consenting). Consent implies the choice between assent and dissent. You can't exercise consent when "consent" is your only option.
It's really scary how "mainstream" the idea of silence and obedience to power has become. This is just another example of that.

Crowded Schedules Strike Again

Saw March of the Penguins last night. It's amazing how a good animal documentary can convince you of one simple fact: We aren't special. I'm serious. There are no new stories. Humans are just chimps with air conditioning. (An innovation I'm very thankful for, by the way.)

For those who don't know, MotP follows the annual trek of Emperor Penguins from the "beaches" of Antarctica, where they feed, to the breeding grounds deeper in-continent, where the thicker ice prevents hapless Penguin chicks from falling into the waters. The mothers lay the eggs, and then immediately head back to the feeding grounds. The males have to meanwhile stay and guard the eggs until they hatch - between the march inland, the egg-guarding duties, and the march back to the sea, the men lose half their body weight.

It's amazing that anything manages to survive on the surface of Antarctica, much less waterfowl. If you need a really good real-life drama, go see it. If you live in Toronto, it's on at the Cumberland.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Lite Blogging

Manual labour has led, inevitably, to soreness and pain. Also, in the middle of a good book.

In the meantime, some assorted links:

A road vehicle that looks kind of like a space capsule.

Cheap solar power, contd.

Long lasting, low power lighting from LEDs - coming soon, from Phillips.

In a blow to creationists everywhere, elephants respond to poachers by being born without tusks. You win again, reality.

Now, I return to bed.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Movie Grosses Back Up

The tone of this Globe piece is really funny:
You could almost hear the sighs of relief all the way from Hollywood last Sunday, as movie moguls got their first look at the weekend's box office returns.

After 19 agonizing consecutive weeks when North American movie revenue was down from a year earlier, a surprisingly successful release of The Fantastic Four from 20th Century Fox helped propel box office returns for the July 8-10 weekend to $148.9-million (U.S.). That was just a few hundred thousand dollars over the same period in 2004, but enough to cause a collective wiping of brows.
Wow. Next week, revenue will be lower than last year again and the heart attacks will start anew. Does anyone seriously think that Fantastic Four is going to have legs? No, the movie industry is in a lot of trouble, though not because of this:
The biggest threat to the movie business may come from people such as Ian, an 18-year-old computer whiz who lives in Toronto.

Ian, not his real name, has a customized computer with four hard drives, two video cards and a large memory that allows him to do a wide range of heavy-duty computing, including downloading full-length movies.

It currently takes about an hour and half to download a film, but he foresees that dropping to about five minutes in the near future.
Yeah, right. Movies are being released on torrent sites that are now gigabyte-sized files. Bandwidth may increase, but that will just let pirates increase the size (and quality) of the movies they're distributing.

But let's say that Hollywood gets it's wish, and manages to create an Internet where nobody can commit any piracy whatsoever. Ignore the impossibility of this scenario for a moment, and go with me here.

People don't just listen to any music that flits through their computer. It's well understood that people follow the trends of certain opinion leaders within their social group. This was first really understood by Paul Lazarsfeld in the election of 1940 - despite a hostile press, Roosevelt did well in the election because most people didn't really care about what the press said. Rather, they looked to the most-informed members of their group to advise them on who they should vote for - so-called "opinion leaders." Ironically the opinion leaders were the most well-informed about the election because they consumed the most campaign news, while the undecideds were the least informed on the election, and the least inclined to learn about the election. Some things never change...

Anyway, the point is this: In any group of friends, there is the Music Nerd. I know several. These are the guys who buy every CD they can get their hands on, even from groups they know nothing about. These are the people from whom the rest of us learn about new bands, new music, etc. Given the sad state of commercial radio these days, the Music Nerds are often the only way for non-music nerds (like myself) to learn about new music. Like I said, people don't listen to just any music - they listen to what their friends are listening to.

This poses some real problems for music and movies. I may not own all the music and movies I want, but I almost certainly wouldn't have a hard time finding anything I wanted within my circle of friends. And most of my friends don't listen to CDs, per se. Rather, they rip what CDs they have, and listen off their computers. This is incredibly common among my friends, and I'd be willing to wager within my generation. And it's going to get more common, not less.

So what does it have to do with Internet piracy? Well, let's examine some prices. Napster is offering unlimited music downloads for $15.00, but is having a hard time competing with iTunes. iTunes, the elephant of the industry, is still charging $1.00 for a song. Meanwhile, the cheapest new hard drive you can buy costs $60.00 Canadian, and holds 60GB. So for 4 months of Napster, or 60 songs of iTunes, you've got a hard drive that is relatively portable, will last years, and will hold a lot of whatever you want to walk around. For smaller denominations of memory, USB flash drives continue to fall in price. Simply put, even if the content industries manage to shut down all internet piracy, people will walk their data around. And suddenly stopping piracy has become analagous to trying to stop marijuana or crack - it's easy to produce, easy to hide, and extremely portable. It would simply be a nightmare for law enforcement.

I'll say it again: If Hollywood thinks it can win this game by lawsuits, they're deluding themselves.


I came across this a while back - Suburban Guerilla linked to it as a reason for gay marriage to be legalized. In case you didn't hear:
TAMPA - Even though the boy would shake and wet himself, his father, Ronnie Paris Jr., would box with the 3-year-old, slapping him in the head until he cried because he didn't want his son to grow up to be "a sissy," the boy's mother testified Monday.

Others corroborated Nysheerah Paris' testimony as the prosecution built its case during the first day of the capital murder trial of Ronnie Paris Jr., 21, accused of abusing 3-year- old Ronnie Paris until the boy slipped into a coma Jan. 22.

He died six days later with swelling on both sides of his brain.

"He was trying to teach him how to fight," said Shanita Powell, Nysheerah Paris' sister. "He was concerned that the child might be gay."
Just to be clear, we have here the charming and innovative combination of a hate crime and infanticide. It truly boggles my mind how a parent could be so afraid of homosexuality - in a three year-old - that they could beat their son to death. Was he worried about his son coming home from day care in leather chaps?

I don't have much else to say. I'm really only linking to this on the off chance that I might make some bigots less comfortable.

A Mouse, Alone No More

Living next to you [the USA] is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly or temperate the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.
- Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, March 25, 1969, Addressing the Press Club in Washington, D.C.

LONDON (AP) — Britain's close alliance with the United States has put it at particular risk of terrorist attack, two leading think tanks said Monday, but a government minister said the nation would not have been safer by staying out of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The continuing debate about the wisdom of Britain's military commitments has intensified after the bombings of three London underground trains and a bus on July 7 killed 55 people, including the four suicide bombers, and injured some 700 others.
I know a lot of people are going to have knee-jerk reaction to this news (including the British government) but the logic isn't really that questionable: Because of the war in Iraq, Britain has gone from being a "safe zone" (because of it's relative leniency towards muslim immigrants) to being a target. Anyway, the far more interesting conclusion of the think-tank report is the one the AP is ignoring - that the UK gets little to no influence or power within the US-UK alliance. It looks like the UK, once the Empire on which the sun never set, can now be called an Honorary Mouse, just like Canada. To Queen Elizabeth: Welcome. Don't worry, you're still on all our money.

This is important, because some of you will remember that some Canadian quislings thinkers have said that, in order to influence American foreign policy we need to show our willingness to work with Washington. Call it the Ignatieff Hypothesis. This report shatters that myth, showing that despite doing yeoman's work in Iraq, the UK has had little effect on US policies. So those who would have Canada say "ready, aye ready" to our neighbours to the south should wake the hell up. All we would do by helping the US is ruin our good name. Canada's never been afraid of fighting the good fight - whether it was the Fascists in 1937, Germany and Japan in 1939, or Afghanistan in 2001. Next time there's a cause worth fighting for, I have absolutely no doubt the Canadian people will sign up.

It would be nice if the Americans could show up on time, for once.

Whither Advertising?

So after yesterday's false alarm (Japan banning commercial skipping?) it's interesting to see Tivo actually (gasp!) innovating a new service in television:
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Digital video recorder maker TiVo Inc. on Monday upgraded its television recording service to let about 1 million of its subscribers instantly respond to specially coded advertising, the company said....

The new system creates an option for viewers who want to know more about a product to tell TiVo to release their contact information to an advertiser. For example, after watching an ad for an automobile or family vacation, users can ask to have a brochure sent to their home.

"We have seen the need to provide greater entry point to this advertising space ... to support enough advertisers concurrently," said Kimber Sterling, director of advertising and research sales. "And consumers who are interested in those products will invest several minutes of their time."
Fascinating - bringing the web paradigm of "click-through" ads to television. Of course, the next logical step is to go the route - forcing viewers to watch ads before they can access their content. Of course, if Tivo lets me choose which ads I'd prefer to watch, that might even work.

We Continue To Suck

Canada should be ashamed of it's continuing role in legitimizing the US's coup in Haiti. Naomi Klein has more.

No Christian Terrorists?

Ah, let us now turn to the fount of truth, Pat Robertson. On Bastille Day, Robertson totally harshed my terrorist-loving buzz:
ROBERTSON: Don't you feel it rather interesting that every time you have a story about terrorism, it is linked to Muslim extremists? You don't hear somebody, "Christian extremist killing film producers, Christian extremists blowing up trains." It just doesn't happen. But it's Muslim extremists and, ladies and gentlemen, Islam, at least at its core, teaches violence. It's there in the Quran in clear, bold statements. Well over 100 verses dealing with violence against infidels, and that is what they're taught.
See, it's funny because it's true. Except it isn't:
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Reuters) - Convicted Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Monday for the 1998 bombing of an Alabama abortion clinic that killed a police officer and maimed a nurse.
And in case you're unclear as to Rudolph's position as a Christian extremist, this is an excerpt from his statement in April:
The Republican party is the modern day equivalent to the Pharisaical sect in ancient Judea. "You are like whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and inequity." Matthew 23:28. The coward Bush talks about the "culture of life," but intends to effect no change with respect to Roe v. Wade. He made this perfectly clear when he stated during the stem cell debate that "America is not ready to abolish Roe v. Wade." Three of the key justices who are instrumental in maintaining Roe v. Wade O'Connor, Kennedy and Souter were appointed by Republican presidents. No politician in Washington will ever seriously threaten abortion on demand And the fools who listen to them, in their hearts, know this but do not care.
Nope. No sir. No Christian terrorists. But somehow I don't think Robertson is going to be publishing a retraction anytime soon. I would be willing to bet that Rudolph and Robertson have different voting records, though.

Oh, and the idea that it's only the Qu'ran that deals with violence towards infidels is hysterically funny. Has Robertson even read the Bible? I should be killed for eating bacon, according to that thing!

Some Bizarre Headlines

Good thing I've had my pot of tea - otherwise I might be confused:
  • Harry Potter spells money for Rowling. Seriously, that's the headline. All this time, I thought it was a charity...
  • China to send pig sperm to space. Yep. You read that right.
  • Jewish settler seeks to become Palestinian. I'm not sure if he can convert... okay, this is actually a neat story. "Jewish settler Avi Farhan, determined not to give up his home overlooking the sea when Israel quits the occupied Gaza Strip, is looking into becoming a Palestinian.

    "I have met with Palestinians. I am willing to be a test case for peace and take up Palestinian citizenship," Farhan told Reuters. "It will hurt me to give up my Israeli citizenship, but I want to remain here." There was this episode of Star Trek where a bunch of Native Americans agreed to live with Cardassians...

You Win Again, History

I forget - was Peter Pan trying to escape his shadow? I find myself reading stories like this and devoutly wishing we could all wake up tomorrow not care about the past:

Row over offer to Sudeten Germans
Czech President Vaclav Klaus has condemned the country's prime minister for offering to compensate Germans expelled after World War II.

Jiri Paroubek said the Sudetenland Germans of the former Czechoslovakia would receive compensation if they could prove they opposed the Nazis.

Mr Klaus said he thought Mr Paroubek had gone "completely mad".

Mr Paroubek made the offer during a one-day visit to Austria on Thursday.

Both Austria and Germany want the Czech Republic and Slovakia to repeal the 194 decrees ordering the expulsion of some three million Sudetenland Germans from border regions of Moravia and Bohemia.
Admittedly, the idea of the Czechs compensating the Germans strikes me as a bit addled, but hey - it's not my country. We now move on to the news that a Japanese town has actually adopted the "nationalist" textbook which almost totally ignores Japan's wartime atrocities:
TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese city on Wednesday adopted for use in its schools a history textbook that critics say whitewashes Tokyo's militaristic past, a decision likely to further chill ties with China and South Korea.

The education board of the city of Otawara in Tochigi Prefecture, 150 kilometers (90 miles) north of Tokyo, became the first municipal government to adopt "The New History Textbook," written by nationalistic scholars for junior high schools....

Critics say the textbook, sponsored by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform (Tsukurukai), plays down the 1937 Nanjing Massacre in China, ignores the sexual enslavement of women for Japanese soldiers and depicts Japanese wartime actions as aimed at liberating other Asian countries.
The Japanese have been trying to sell that "liberation" line since before the war. It's kind of funny - I guess the most blatant lies never die, they just keep coming back. Of course, Japan's relations with China are being further tested by Japan's recent decision to allow Japanese oil drilling to begin in contested waters. Of course, Japan has border disputes with every single one of it's neighbours, so any oil exploration was likely to anger somebody, but this is still bad news, and the combination of textbook-drilling is hurting Sino-Japanese relations, again.

The only good news is that China is very quickly backing down from comments made by one Major-General that China would use its nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict over Taiwan. China remains comitted to "peaceful reunification" with Taiwan, which might be why the Communists are backing down from their historical claim that it was they alone who liberated China - the new party line is that "the entire nation" (presumably including the Nationalists) liberated China. This is a pretty major change - and it looks to me like an olive branch being offered to Taipei.

The US government, for it's part, is doing it's best to look like the arrogant bully in Asia. Whether it's refusing to back India's seat on the Security Council, or screaming about the Chinese attempt to buy Unocal, the US seems intent on annoying almost 3 billion people. On the other hand, it's nice to see Congressmen at least being more honest about their concerns over UNOCAL:
As an example of where China could deny the United States access to oil sources, Hunter cited investments by Unocal in pipelines running from Caspian Sea oil fields through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.

"China's purchase of Unocal would dramatically increase its leverage over these countries, and therefore its leverage over U.S. interests in those regions," the California Republican said. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has scheduled a hearing on CNOOC's bid for July 19.
I see. So this isn't about "national energy security" or any BS like that. It's about America's neocolonial foothold in Central Asia. Thanks for clearing that up, Rep. Hunter. It's funny when they stop trying to put naked avarice in the burlesque of "spreading democracy" or crap like that.

Oof. Too many links for one post. Got to stop taking weekends off.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Calming down...

Japanese broadcast regulators are now saying that ad-skipping devices like Tivo are illegal. Up next: The cops are coming to smash the fast-forward button on your remote control.

Or... maybe not. All the non-blog stories I can find are from the National Association of Commercial Broadcasters, which is a commercial advocacy group, not a bunch of regulators. This isn't anything that Jack Valenti in the US hasn't said before.

Ahh, Bunnies

Last Christmas, I was fortunate enough to stumble across "It's a Wonderful Life" as told in 30 seconds, by bunnies.

Now I learn that there are many "30 second bunnies" movies. Including, less heart-warmingly but far more amusingly, Pulp Fiction.

Bunny AWAY!

Friday, July 15, 2005

All Praise Scrubs

I have only recently discovered this wondrous show. I've been watching the episodes of the first season, and I have to say I'm blown away. It's taken the one part of Ally McBeal that I found appealing - lots of quirky visual gags - and actually built an intelligent plot and characters in to it. Holy crap.

I would reccomend renting the DVDs.

That is all.

Link Cleaning

In which I clear out old stories I've been meaning to blog about:

So wrong. But so funny.

US Military to spend on Star Trek-like energy weapons. Up next: Tranquility Base becomes the next century's Abu Ghraib. Seriously - one of the selling points is "Such a strike would be so precise that, as some designers put it at a recent conference here, the military could plausibly deny responsibility." If that doesn't chill your blood, I don't know what would.

China's nuclear arsenal is smaller than you think. So Angelica (see! I can get names right!) I think you have less to worry about over this crazy guy. Not that "smaller" nuclear forces necessarily makes one feel better. You only need a few, after all.

That's better.

These People Aren't Friends

This is the saddest part of the chumminess in Washington between journalists and the Bush Administration. When the pressure's on, Bush and co. will turn on you like that.

As Billmon ably demonstrates, now that someone in the White House is facing a possible indictment, the White House's strategy has gone from being "no comment" to anonymously - oh, lord, more of that! - claiming that Rove never leaked it - the Press did! I'm sure we're a half-step away from this all being blamed on Liberals. Can the scene of Bush holding a list of 57 known CIA agents be far behind?

A memo to the press: These people are not your friends. You may have drinks with them, tell bawdy jokes, whatever. I'm sure you're all chummy. But your job as reporters is to, if necessary, destroy their careers. You almost did it with Clinton. Think you can do it again? For their part, their job isn't to tell you everything - their job is actually to keep it from you. Your job is to find it out.

I would have thought most of this would be covered in Journalism 101, somewhere shortly after "Stand up and tell us your name." Apparently, most of the Washington Press Corps could use a refresher course. Having seen how reporters act around Ottawa and Toronto, I'm relatively certain we could use some up north, too.

Billmon also brings up another theory that I've been chewing on - that maybe Rove is actually telling the truth, and Judith Miller told him who Wilson's wife was. I was just saying yesterday (in a disagreement with my father) that if Miller wasn't claiming protections of the First Ammendment, she'd be claiming the protections of the Fifth. Of course, when you're protecting yourself with the same part of the Constitution recently used by Ken Lay of Enron, you don't get glowing articles in Salon about how noble a martyr you are.

Where's Mine?

Holy hell:
WASHINGTON -- The federal government's chief investigator yesterday blasted the Pentagon for its ''atrocious financial management," saying the Defense Department was not able to give federal oversight officials a full accounting of the $1 billion being spent each week on the war in Iraq.

''If the Department of Defense were a business, they'd be out of business," David Walker, comptroller general of the Government Accountability Office, said at a breakfast with reporters yesterday. ''They have absolutely atrocious financial management."

The GAO has been examining the Pentagon's Iraq expenses, and ''we're having extreme difficulty in getting the Department of Defense to provide a full accounting of what they're spending" there, Walker said. ''I can't understand how we're spending $1 billion a week."
Let's restate that - the Department of Defense is spending the real equivalent of an Apollo Program every three months. The article says that money is for the war, not for general defense. The article could be wrong, but as it is it implies the DoD is spending something close to $400 billion on the war.

But getting more than a paltry commitment to dealing with America's oil dependency? That's the Road to Serfdom, you commie.

"Break Our Society"?

Now, I've had some nice things to say about Canada's Chief of Defense Staff, Rick Hillier. And even most of what he said yesterday I was okay with. But I have two problems with his statements yesterday - one small, one large.

The small one is that I have a huge reservation about military figures advocating foreign policy. I don't think Hillier was doing that, quite. But his rather... emphatic defense of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan seems to be more at home in Washington than Ottawa, frankly.
Canada's top soldier doesn't believe the country's presence in Afghanistan makes it a target for attacks, but he warns Canadians should prepare for military casualties.

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier says Canada would be a target whether its troops were in Afghanistan or not.

"These are detestable murderers and scumbags. I'll tell you that right up front," said Hillier....

"It doesn't matter whether we are in Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world. They want to break our society. I actually believe that," he said.

If Canada is attacked, he says, it will be only because it is a free country.

"They detest our freedoms. They detest our society. They detest our liberties," he said.
Like I said, I don't think Hillier was advocating foreign policy, quite, but it's hard for me to read that and think that Hillier doesn't want, for example, a closer security relationship with the US. I'm obviously reading in to the text, so I'll freely admit I could be way of base. But based on what I've seen and heard previously, that's in character.

(Full disclosure: I've gone to school with Hillier's son, though I've never met the Chief himself.)

My larger objection to Hillier's comments yesterday is the last part - the whole "they hate our liberties" part. When, Lord, will we finally be able to give up that God-forsaken BS? Osama has never recruited a new AQ member - not a single one - by attacking Canada for it's lax broadcast standards. How has he done it? By pointing to Chechnya, and Palestine, and even disparate places like Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and said "Muslims aren't free." Osama doesn't give a damn about our freedoms - he cares about Mohammed bin whoever who used to live in Falluja, but now has to bury his wife and child. He cared about Mohammed before the American invasion, because he was living under a secular dictatorship, and he cares about the poor shmucks who live under the rule of the Sauds because of their corruption, but I promise you the only reason he cares about Angelina's tits is as a point of contrast between the "pure" and the "rest."

And as for Hillier's earlier point - "they want to break our society" - I have one simple question: Do they have the means to do so? Because, if they do, then Gen. Hillier should stop spreading plattitudes about "freedom" and do his job.

I probably shouldn't end on a sour note, because a) I actually agreed with Hillier's important points: i) Canadian forces are going to take casualties, and we forget that at our peril, and ii) this is still a job worth doing - and b) I still think Hillier is doing a good job, despite this recent outburst of chest-thumping.

Queerer Than We Can Imagine

Wow. Astrophysicists are going to have to go back to the drawing board. Wed Jul 13, 2:07 PM ET

A newly discovered planet has bountiful sunshine, with not one, not two, but three suns glowing in its sky.

It is the first extrasolar planet found in a system with three stars. How a planet was born amidst these competing gravitational forces will be a challenge for planet formation theories....

The triple-star system, HD 188753, is located 149 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. The primary star is like our Sun, weighing 1.06 solar masses. The other two stars form a tightly bound pair, which is separated from the primary by approximately the Sun-Saturn distance.
Wow. Not ten years ago, this probably would have been called impossible, or nearly so. Simply put, multiple-star solar systems are such a jumble of gravitational forces that it was long deemed impossible for planets to form in them.

Though this latest planet is another in the "Hot Jupiter" type - a gas giant orbiting very near to it's parent star - the fact that it exists at all is astonishing, and arguably provides more evidence for the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Our experience on Earth shows that life began at almost the exact moment it could realistically start - roughly the moment the planet cooled in to a solid mass. With astronomers continually finding planets in places where they shouldn't be, it seems that planet formation is kind of like life on earth - anywhere it can be, it is.

Note - I am not an astronomer, just a slightly-informed layman. Discount my opinions appropriately, as always.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


Kevin Drum is usually the archetypal good American liberal - feet firmly planted on both sides of the fence. So imagine my surprise when I read this off his blog today:
Welcome to the modern Republican party. Who would have thought that one day the White House would be run by someone who made Richard Nixon look responsible and forbearing?
Damn, Kevin. Keep those claws sharp!

It's Funny Because It's True

Super Mario World Physics Tutorial.

Lo-fi goodness.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Stop Me Before I Plame Again

Just to be clear - I don't support sending journalists to prison to coerce them in to testifying. As I said, my father is a journalist, and I certainly don't want to see him sent to prison.

That said, while journalists have been yelling about how we non-journalists "don't get it" that a principle is at stake here, journalists don't seem to get that a very serious crime was comitted in the Plame case. Moreover, it was comitted using the legal protections which journalists are afforded.

Some have compared the Plame/Miller affair to the Skokie case, where Illinois Nazis had their right to assemble defended by the ACLU and the Supreme Court.

[Blues Brothers]I Hate Illinois Nazis.[/Blues Brothers]

That said, I think the Skokie analogy is wrong. Rather, a better example would be the Amadou Diallo shooting in New York. Police, like journalists, are afforded certain legal protections to do their jobs, because society recognizes that their jobs serve a greater purpose - cops are allowed to use lethal force in certain situations, reporters are allowed to keep sources anonymous. But what do we do when those legal protections have obviously been misused?

If you think the proper response to the Diallo shooting (or any example of police misconduct) is to let the police responsible go without any investigation, or to allow the police to interfere and refuse to cooperate with an investigation, then I can see why you might think Miller deserves to go free. She almost certainly has information pertaining to this crime, and is refusing to cooperate. Like journalists are doing today, police have regularly warned that any prosecution of their crimes will lead to their jobs being poorly done - i.e. less law enforcement. Those threats have been hollow. Honest journalism will continue.

It's also worth noting that, like the Diallo case, people have almost certainly died because of Robert Novak's actions. This was a gross misuse of a reporter's privilege, as bad as any police shooting. I can honestly see why some journalists are worried - this affair will change the way reporting is done in the US, and I hope for the better. If it leads to journalists being less giddy about getting anonymous leaks used to smear political opponents, I won't shed a single tear.

Liberals and War

Battlepanda is back again, and the peasants rejoice at her return. In one of her latest posts, she deals with the question of liberals and wars of mercy. Put another way, a commenter asks if the same liberals who defended the sovereignty of Iraq would be willing to go in the wayback machine and violate Nazi Germany's sovereignty to stop the Holocaust. Amanda take up the banner and raises it high:
All I can tell you is that of all the liberals I've ever come across, none is likely to fail your test and sit by while the holocaust occured because they respect too much the sovereignty of Germany.
Well, I'd like to think that she's right. Indeed, I think if you were to take the 100 million most "liberal" Americans (whoever that would entail) and replaced 1936 America's population with them, it's quite possible that Roosevelt would have been able to declare war against Germany in 1939, instead of waiting two and a half years.

But this isn't the issue, because World War II was never fought over the Holocaust - we simply didn't know the extent of Germany's industrial death machine. Rather, the war was fought against Nazi aggression, and the reason the west waited so long was a very simple one - most of the decision-makers had lived through World War One, and were loath to start a new war. So, Amanda, you should ask yourself another question, and this one is more diffcult: Of all the liberals you know, how many would have started World War II early, after having lived through World War I? I'd like to think that I wouldn't be afraid to stand up to Nazi agression, but if I'd grown up all my life knowing my father (for example) wasn't able to exert himself because of breathing too much mustard gas in the trenches, then maybe I'd be scared of what the new war would bring, too.

The question of liberal interventionism is a bit different, of course. Intervening in Rwanda wasn't likely to start World War III - and we still failed the test. And our intervention in the Balkans was so late as to be a failure. Afghanistan wasn't about liberation, but it's been a failure in that regard too. Iraq, well, with the bodies stacked like pallets, I think we can say the humanitarian angle is a failure as well. But it's worth saying that it wasn't because of liberals - certainly, it wasn't President Al Gore who botched the war in Afghanistan.

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Via Susie Madrak, we get this joyful piece of news:
An Iraqi humanitarian organization is reporting that 128,000 Iraqis have been killed since the U.S. invasion began in March 2003.

Mafkarat al-Islam reported that chairman of the 'Iraqiyun humanitarian organization in Baghdad, Dr. Hatim al-'Alwani, said that the toll includes everyone who has been killed since that time, adding that 55 percent of those killed have been women and children aged 12 and under.

'Iraqiyun obtained data from relatives and families of the deceased, as well as from Iraqi hospitals in all the country's provinces. The 128,000 figure only includes those whose relatives have been informed of their deaths and does not include those were abducted, assassinated or simply disappeared.
Okay, so that Lancet piece that said 100,000 dead in Iraq seems to now have corroborating evidence. I'm sure the hawkosphere will immediately retract their previous slime job against one of the most prestigious peer-reviewed journals in history.

Yet More About Reporters

Even if you're willing to click through the ads, I wouldn't reccomend reading this article at Salon about Judy Miller in jail. Unless you're actually undecided on this issue - which, if you know much about it, is unlikely - you're not going to find anything new there. However, the righteous tone of the article did piss me off about as much as it did Atrios (from whom I purloin the link.) The key line is on the second page:
On one hand, many members of the public -- especially liberals who ought to be staunch defenders of the Bill of Rights -- seem unable or unwilling to grasp the idea that a matter of fundamental principle might be at stake, even in the murky and seemingly bottomless waters of the Miller-Plame-Rove affair. Compelling a reporter to reveal his or her sources to the police turns that reporter into a police agent, and that's not acceptable, even in unsavory circumstances like these. No reporter can be expected to check out the legality or ethics or motivations of all sources in advance. All sorts of surprising people talk to reporters when they probably shouldn't, for all sorts of personal and political and psychological reasons. If journalists can only receive confidential information from the saintly and the pure of heart, the entire enterprise might as well become "The View."
In a sense, O'Heihr is right: A principle is at stake here, and an important one. I'm the son of a journalist, and remember being told late one night not to worry if the police came by to take my father away, because the babysitter would be by. Seriously - I wasn't to worry that my father was going to jail, because he'd called the sitter. Okay, my father wasn't always the most perceptive parent.

However, my father was willing to go to jail over one of his stories, and he had used an anonymous source who had given him information that was restricted. (Without going in to the details, let me just say that the story is one most Canadian families would know, and one that was absolutely worth my father going to jail if that was necesary for the story being told.) But this is exactly the point - this was a story that a) needed to be told, and b) could only be told by using an anonymous source, or not at all.

The case of Plamegate and Judy Miller is almost the exact opposite - leaking a CIA agent's name was totally unnecessary and unethical (not to mention illegal) and should not have been published, certainly not while giving the traitor anonymity. It's hard to imagine in this day when hardly a single story is written without an anonymous source, but this is a special privilege, not a blanket right. And it's never absolute.

If journalists want the protection of "principles" than they have to live up to them. It's doesn't get any simpler than that.


Late War of the Worlds thought: the screenwriter was faithful to the original novel in that the aliens are done in by germs - though we get a gratuitous scene of US soldiers bazooka-ing a sick and dying alien to death.

It seems that, historically and even in film, the US can't win a war unless a far more numerous ally has softened the enemy up beforehand. World War II? The Russians and Chinese respectively kept German and Japanese forces tied up while the Americans (and Canadians, and British) did the easy work. When the aliens invade, we'll have to rely on bacteria which not only outnumber us, but outweigh us by orders of magnitude. Good to know.

Thank God for Afghanistan

One of the reassuring plattitudes we were led to believe in the run-up to the war in Iraq was that Afghanistan showed how the "New War" worked - light on the ground troops, but heavy on air power. This, of course, is the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) that so many thinkers have heralded as a new era of war fighting. There's some things that suggest this could be a far more effective use of force - using smart bombs and drones rather than B-52s and kilotons of explosives. However, there's a huge difference between thinking that new technologies can help soldiers fight in new ways, and thinking that new technologies make soldiers obsolete. Afghanistan, proponents of RMA claim, shows that all you need is "a guy on a camel with a cellphone" to call in air strikes, and you can destroy the enemy without the massed armies of old.

In a way, this is a technical fallacy similar to the dogma of strategic bombing before and during WWII - except it's the mirror image. Rather than believe (as we did back then) that massive bombing campaigns against the enemy's homeland can cripple the enemy's will to fight, we now seem to believe that smart bombs alone can win a war.

Of course, the reality of Iraq and Afghanistan has showed that if the enemy is going to mass in numbers, you'd better have the numbers to push back. In Iraq, you have significantly less than 100,000 combat soldiers to patrol an area the size of California and a population slightly smaller than Canada's. The situation in Afghanistan is probably worse.

If this were the only lie used to sell Iraq, we might not have fallen for it. But we were also told that the US Army was such a superior fighting machine, that it was unthinkable that any significant resistance would last long against it. I thought of that when I read this review by Phil Carter, of a book called Not a Good Day To Die:
But as the crew waited for the landing ramp to drop, an al Qaeda fighter fired his rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) into the Chinook, blowing out the electrical system and rendering the bird's navigational displays and radios useless. Shrapnel from a second RPG sliced through the aircraft, spraying hydraulic fluid all over the chopper floor. The Chinook had been on the ground for all of 45 seconds. Enemy soldiers were now visible to the naked eye, as was a donkey lashed to a tree and a goat or lamb carcass hanging from the branches.

Clearly, the intelligence had been wrong....

Operation Anaconda began as an attempt to destroy what the U.S. military thought was a scattered group of about 250 Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in and around the Shahikot Valley, 81 miles south of Kabul. A number of those fighters were thought to be high-value targets—many suspected Osama bin Laden might be among them. Having just failed to block the escape of al Qaeda forces (and possibly bin Laden) from Tora Bora, the military was determined not to make the same mistake again. And yet it did. Instead of a couple hundred jihadists, the Shahikot Valley region turned out to hold a few thousand. And though the military would declare Operation Anaconda a “victory,” Army War College professor Stephen Biddle has written that it may have actually been a victory for al Qaeda and the Taliban, in that it showed they could stand up to a conventional U.S. force on the battlefield, much as they did to the Soviets two decades before.
Naylor (the author) goes on to describe in great detail what went wrong at Shahikot, including an incredibly bad planning aparatus - essentially, the battle plan was being drawn up in Florida, with Pentagon officials apparently more concerned with how to brief the press than what the mission objectives were. Bad management, to say the least. As for that line about how bad the intelligence was, well, feast your eyes on this:
Satellite photography caught one RPG, which, warned one officer, probably meant there were more, but no one knew just how many. A thousand enemy fighters were estimated to be in the valley. As it turned out, there may have been 10 times as many, and they weren't just in the valley but on the tactically crucial high ground above.

But U.S. commanders refused to change their plan. It was, according to the 10th Mountain Division's chief of operations Lt. Col. David Gray, “unreasonable to expect wholesale changes based on a single source.” But, writes Naylor, “[chief planner Maj. Paul Wilie] acknowledged that writing the plan had been such a painful process of compromise and negotiation that nobody could face the prospect of tearing it up… simply because the enemy might not be where they were supposed to be.
Yes, it would be terrible if you had to remake all those Powerpoint presentations, just because the enemy had the high ground. Naylor is right in emphasizing the importance of the high ground, especially in a case like Afghanistan where valuable air and artillery assets were already being moved to the Persian Gulf, and were thus unavailable to destroy the Taliban in Afghanistan. This is doubly the case when bureaucratic incompetence puts 1,500 US infantrymen on the ground with nothing heavier than the machine guns on their backs.

Read the rest of the review here - it sounds like an excellent book, and I hope I'll be able to get it soon. Oh, and spare a happy thought for Phil Carter - he's been called in to active duty in Iraq.

You might guess that I'm unsympathetic to the chuch of RMA, and you'd be right. Not that I don't think that these new technologies are militarily valuable - quite the opposite. But there are limits to their usefulness, and eventually the ability to control a situation is highly (though not completely) dependent on numbers. It's worth noting that the strongest proponents of the RMA are by and large not in the Army, but in the Air Force and Navy. Some have said (I believe with good reason) that much of the bombast behind the RMA dogma is simply designed to keep the air force, and to a lesser extent the navy, at the front of the line when it comes to spending. For the record, Donald Rumsfeld is an old Air Force man, as is Gen. Myers, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Off With His Head!

Seriously. This is the worst crime in all of human history:
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Some Hollywood actresses are cautious about revealing too much skin but 20-year-old
Scarlett Johansson had to be persuaded to keep her underwear on, according to her director in "The Island,"
Michael Bay....

"She's standing there and she says, 'I'm not wearing this cheap ... bra. I'm going naked,"' Bay said.

"I said, 'It's PG-13, you have to wear the bra,"' he said.
All I'll say is that there's a reason God gave us DVDs.

War of the Worlds Review

Short version: Meh.

Long version: Like Independence Day, except without Will Smith - or any charismatic characters whatsoever. In fact, the most endearing character in the entire movie is played by... Tom Cruise. Crap.

Cruise's children - while decently acted - were so poorly written (or possibly written as brats so well) that I very much wanted to see them get eaten by the martians. The special effects were impressive, though I'm really beginning to suffer from FX fatigue, I think.

"Jersey being smashed to flaming bits by giant robots? Impossibly lifelike graphics? Yawn."

One thing I will say is that Spielberg continues a long streak of being unable to end a film properly. I think the last satisfying ending Spielberg made was in Jurassic Park 2. Since then, all of his movies have generally been good except for the last 10-30 minutes. The most egregious example of this is of course AI, where a visually brilliant movie that paid incredible tribute to Stanley Kubrick's last work was ruined by Spielberg's "the aliens bring him back to life" ending.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm, I would say WotW is definitely better than Independence Day, and about one billion times better than the abortion that was Signs.

God I hated that movie.

On a more general note, Vicki and I went to go see the movie at the Rainbow theatre in St. Lawrence Market, where you can still see movies cheap on a Tuesday night - admission for both of us plus a drink to share cost only $12. That's 2 tickets and a drink - in some theatres in Toronto, that'll only get you one admission, if that. In fact, I think most movies I've seen this summer have usually cost us (with drinks) close to $30. The screens are a bit smaller than usual, but not terribly so. And most importantly, they're not owned and run by the new national monopoly of Cineplex/Famous Players. So if you live in Toronto and want to go see a movie, I'd reccomend checking the times at Rainbow first. It's nice to leave the theatre without feeling forcibly sodomized.

The link for the Market Square theatre is here. You can also find other theatres across Canada.

Cheap Solar Power?

Interesting article in Wired about Idealab's newest baby - a solar collector which uses cheap mirrors to concentrate sunlight on a smaller silicon panel. No indication on what exactly the cost per Kwh will be, but the article does cite a cost 1/3 that of previous solar power systems.

I don't know if this particular system will be a tipping point or anything, but cheap solar power is always worth sharing.

Corruption of Language

Not to be a Leninist, but this is the problem with ideological compromise: Eventually, the bad guys use it against you. To see Ralph Klein using the language of the New Labour's "Third Way" to begin his long-sought privatization of health care is disgusting. But honestly, I can't be angry with Ralphie too much - he's just doing what he does between shots out of his Listerine bottle. Rather, the sad thing is that what passes for the "Left" in this country has been so corrupted by Liberal cost-cutting. In Ontario, we have a Liberal government that still has yet to rule out effective privatization - even if they won't call it that.

Gee, if only there were a party in Canada unequivocally comitted to public, non-profit health care.

Some Interesting China Pieces

First off, an interesting article about China's economy from the Washington Post. Like many Asian countries, China has essentially nothing that could be called a "safety net" for the poor - ironically, given it's nominal Communism. This lack of any safety net for the elderly, combined with the one-child policy, has led to massive savings by the Chinese people. The Chinese savings rate is something like 20-30%, compared with the US's average of something close to zero. The article discusses some of the effects of this - China has been unable to tap it's own consumption, so all of it's production goes to exports (cough cough Walmart.) However, this is one of those things that can't go on forever.

Secondly, and staying with the economy, Reuters is reporting that China's GDP is likely to slow relative to last year's 9.5%. The article attributes this to the Party's efforts to build a more sustainable economy. The reason this is interesting is that the party has always had to deal with more domestic unrest in economic down-times. Tiananmen itself took place after a bad year of low growth and high unemployment. If China's GDP growth is slowing, it's hard to see how this won't result in more domestic problems, unless part of the "sustainability" efforts find ways to help the underclass.

Thirdly, an interesting editorial from my hometown paper about the increasing integration of south and east asian countries under an American banner. The article discusses the US's increasing drive to build a strategic relationship with India, most certainly as a counterweight to China in Asia. This is a process that started under Clinton, showing once more that when it comes to serious foreign policy, call a Democrat. I'll have to remember to do more research on what aid India is getting from the US. India recently announced the construction of it's first aircraft carrier. I wonder if they're getting US help.

Finally, Russia is announcing that it will prioritize China over Japan when it comes to oil purchases through the far east pipeline. Unless this statement is quickly retracted, this could get messy. The Japanese have offered billions of dollars - real money, as they say - to build the far east pipeline, and I doubt they've done it to take second place in the line for Russian oil. China, to my knowledge, hasn't offered anything like that much money - China might not be capable of offering that much money. On the other hand, Russia and China don't have territorial disputes the way Russia and Japan do, so it's possible that Putin has written off the Japanese. It would be a stupid thing to do over the Kuril islands, but that's Russia for you.


This is just fun.

Monday, July 11, 2005

On Journalistic Privilege

Woodward and Bernstein are on CNN at the moment, and mounting a decent defense of the right to keep anonymous sources. One thing they are clear on is that, regardless of legal consequences, anonymity is something to be protected by the press from the government - reporters, if they're serious about this privilege, should be willing to go to jail over it.

But Woodward said something hillarious just before the commercial break - that if Time (CNN's parent company) is willing to burn one anonymous source, they'll be reduced to having nothing but government spokespeople on their shows.


At last count, the regular contributors to CNN included, but were not limited to:

Paul Begala, former Clinton staff.
James Carville, former Clinton staff.
Gen. Wesley Clark, US Army (ret.)
Gen. David Grange, US Army (ret.)
Bay Buchanan, Treasurer to Ronald Reagan.
Donna Brazile, campaign manager for President Clinton and Vice President Gore.

These are just off the top of my head, but I'd say that if Woodward is worried about CNN having "nothing but government spokespeople" on their shows, he's about a decade too late.


1) To show differences when compared: siblings who contrast sharply in interests and abilities; a color that contrasted clearly with the dark background.
2) To evince a difference that can distinguish meaning: Voiced and voiceless stops contrast in English but not in Cree.
3) The reactions of Americans and British to terrorism.
I mean, really. Just Ellis' title is perfect: London will fucking twat you in a minute, son.

To my American readers - you know all those cliches about the British being unmoved by bombings? They're actually true, and they make you look like a bunch of wailing ninnies. Obviously, the scale of the London bombings pales compared to September 2001, but 9/11 itself pales in comparison to what London has endured before.

Maybe Americans might actually learn some British courage - and learn to deal with terrorism the only way you can: by staying free, and going on with your life while pursuing the criminals with law enforcement, not needless war. But I doubt it - as close as they are, the Tommies are still too foreign for the Yanks. Hell, we Canucks are too foreign for most Americans.

One other note about London, though - it would be the coolest thing ever if "Red" Ken Livingstone replaced Rudy "Prostate" Giuliani as "Most Revered Mayor."

Creationism and History

Fred Clark, one of my favourite bloggers on religious subjects, has a great post on the psychological effects of archaeology on the fundamentalist mind:
There we were, in Jericho. As in Joshua fit the battle of. At 260 meters below sea level, it is the lowest city on earth. It is probably also the oldest. Humans have been living in Jericho more or less continuously for more than 10,000 years. In touring the excavations at Jericho, we saw one unearthed stone structure that the archaeology student guiding us around the dig said was probably about 8,000 years old....

But for one fellow student it was horrifying. He had been raised in a fundamentalist church to believe in a six-day creation and a young earth. How young? They embraced the skewed arithmetic of the infamous Bishop Usher, the Irish churchman who, in the 17th century, added up all the genealogies of the Old Testament and concluded that God created the earth in 4004 B.C.E. So there my friend stood, in 1990, in Jericho, believing that the universe was 5,994 years old and staring at a man-made wall that was 8,000 years old.

An Attempt At Meta-Debunking

Via, I find a truly mind-numbing article called "Debunking 8 Anti-War Myths About the Conflict in Iraq". Cover me, I'm going in. I will abbreviate the charges simply to save time, but you can check out the whole thing here.

1) Charge: Bush lied about WMDs in Iraq. Rebuttal: Democrats thought there were WMDs, too. Evidence: A speech delivered by Hillary Clinton to the senate in October, 2002.

Re-Rebuttal: In October 2002, a lot of people thought there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And as we all remember, the war began shortly thereafter. Except it didn't - there were months between October and the beginning of war in March, 2003. What happened during those months? Well, some of you may remember a Swedish diplomat named Hans Blix (before he was eaten by Kim Jong-Il's fish) who reported in January 2003 that Iraq has complied with inspectors, albeit grudgingly. Note that this is still 2 months before the war, inspectors are reporting cooperation by the Iraqi government, and this would continue up to the point where fighting began. More importantly, up to the beginning of fighting, there was no evidence presented by the UN inspectors that Iraq continued to have WMDs. This is probably why, in March of 2003, most of the Democrats had changed their tone, including John Kerry, who said though he voted for the initial authorization of force for the war, Bush was unnecessarily rushing to war in March.

This is really a non-issue these days, as the rationale for war has changed from imaginary WMDs to imaginary democracy, but if you think that war was necessary in March, 2003 to remove WMDs from the Iraqi government, there is simply no evidence - none whatsoever - for that position.

2) Charge: The Lancet estimates that 100,000 civilians have been killed by the war. Rebuttal: Brief discourse on statistics. Evidence: An op-ed piece, if you can believe it.

The British journal The Lancet published a peer-reviewed paper saying that 100,000 civilians have been killed by the Iraq war. Immediately, the US press expended an incredible amount of effort doing the Pentagon's work, discrediting the paper. There's some truth to the charges - there's a rather large margin of error in the Lancet's estimates. But it's also a mistake to assume that any point within the margin is equally accurate. It's almost certainly not true that 200,000 civilians were killed as of the Lancet's printing, just as it's almost certainly false that "only" 10,000 civilians were killed.

Of course, it would be possible to find a much more accurate reading of civilian casualties in Iraq, if the Pentagon would release any figures. But the Pentagon has said it doesn't count civilians who are killed. This would be callous enough, though in reality the Pentagon probably is counting civilians - but because they're dead, they must have been insurgents, right?

3) Charge: The Bush administration claimed that Iraq was responsible for 9/11. Rebuttal: Nuh-uh! Evidence: A Bush quote, from 6 months after the war began.

I'm beginning to think this guy has a problem with linear time. Never mind that Cheney - who, I believe is a member of the Bush Administration - has repeatedly and forcefully insisted that one of the 9/11 hijackers met with Iraqi agents in Prague, beginning in late 2001. Never mind that Cheney has continued to insist this, in the absence of any evidence and in the face of a number of rebuttals from such subversives as the FBI and the Czech government. The author is entirely silent on this very public lie by the Bush administration.

Further, it's really funny to claim that Bush hasn't tied 9/11 to Iraq - Bush ties everything to 9/11, including the budget deficit, missile defense, heavy artillery, abortion, marijuana, drilling in ANWR, and new nuclear weapons. If he hadn't tied 9/11 to Iraq, it would be notable.

4) Charge: The war was planned by PNAC in 1998. Rebuttal: Regime change has always been US policy. Evidence: Yet another op-ed, this time by David Frum (shudder.)

Yes, regime change has been the policy of the United States - formally since 1998, and informally long before that. Interestingly, it wasn't US policy in 1991 - during the actual, you know, war. Of course, the difference between CIA coup attempts and a 250,000-man strong invasion could easily be grasped by a 10-year old. This makes me reconsider my estimates of the author's age, at the very least. What is true is that members of PNAC were in positions of command during the war - namely Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense. At PNAC, they certainly advocated regime change using military force. This may not be a "plan", but it's certainly evidence that this war was in some sense independent of 9/11.

Interestingly, the author is silent on the charge that Bush was intent on war with Iraq in early 2001 - shortly after his election. This has been documented by Paul O'Neill and Bob Woodward in separate accounts of the Bush administration, and is strong evidence that this was a war years in the making. The author doesn't deal with this charge at all.

5) Charge: The war in Iraq has nothing to do with the war on terror. Rebuttal: Bush says it does, therefore it must. Evidence: Assorted quotes.

The critical question is: Did Iraq support international terrorism. The two most-cited pieces of evidence are Saddam's support for Palestinian families of suicide bombers, and the existence of an Ansar al-Islam camp in Northern Iraq, an area over which Saddam hadn't had control for more than 10 years, since the establishment of the no-fly zones after Gulf War I. As for the Palestinians, Saddam's aid is positively mild compared to other states, like Iran or Saudi Arabia. Other terrorists seem to have had residence in Iraq, or been given medical treatment there, but this is only evidence that not everyone is going to play by the US's rules - none of the resident terrorists in Iraq is accused of doing anything from Iraq, while they were there.

6) Charge: Saddam had no ties to terrorism. Rebuttal: See #5. Evidence: A quote from Christopher "thirsty" Hitchens.

The author lists a number of terrorists, all of whom seem to have gone to Iraq to retire, oddly enough. All of the terrorists have charges against them, and all are certainly deserving of justice, but the most recent attack attributed to them is the 1993 WTC bombing. That Saddam provided them with safe haven isn't a good thing or anything like that, but none of them seem to be "active" terrorists. Except, of course, for Abu Musab Zarqawi, who was in that Ansar al-Islam camp (in Kurdistan) and became active - after the war began. Way to go.

7) Charge: Saddam had no ties to Al-Qaeda. Rebuttal: It depends on what the meaning of "ties" is. Evidence: Various.

Here the rebuttal is almost ridiculous. Nobody can prove anything more than an occasional meeting between AQ and Hussein's government, but this is apparently enough to justify pre-emptive war. There's some vague references to a "relationship" or "training", but no evidence of that has been found. As for providing "chemical weapons precursors", well sorry but almost anything can be called a "precursor", one of the things which made the sanctions regime so cruel and unusual.

8) Charge: The Downing Street Memos prove Bush lied. Rebuttal: This isn't news. Evidence: More op-eds.

Seriously, the rebuttal to the charge of premeditation is... everone already knew that war was inevitable. Um. So the whole UN inspections thing was a charade, and Bush was going to go to war anyway? Dude, I think you just basically admitted to charges 1 and 4. Also, the words "The facts and the intelligence were being fixed round the policy by the Bush administration" don't mean they were lying, they just mean that they were "building the strongest case possible." Fine, I can accept that - except that we know - know - that the Bush administration ignored contrary evidence, including most infamously the report by Joe Wilson that Iraq was not attempting to procure uranium from Niger. So the fact that "building the strongest case possible" included ignoring any contrary evidence is very worrying.

All in all, it's a very unimpressive list of rebuttals. Minus 40 points for using David Frum, too.

But there's a wider point I'd like to dwell on a moment. First, most of the charges made against Iraq before the war were vague, and often would have required Iraq to meet an incredible burden of proog - i.e., that there were absolutely no WMDs in their posession. Considering the bureaucratic nightmare that is the Pentagon (the US routinely loses billions - with a b - of dollars in to the ether of Pentagon contracts) it's ironic that only absolute proof would have sufficed for the US military. Secondly, there's a wider question of whether any of the charges against Saddam deserved a pre-emptive war. We saw that, in fact, the UN inspection process worked perfectly - or at least as well as any succeeding attempts to find WMDs. According to all the evidence avilable to us, there were no WMDs in Iraq before the war began, and there was no substantial evidence of support of terrorism. But the hawks among us would have you believe that, since 9/11, issues of evidence are outdated. If we even suspect they might someday want to have WMDs, then the US now has the right to attack with the full fury of the military. The hawks have made the world far more dangerous, and they will have to answer for that.